Apr 01, 2015
ICYMI: Koch donors step into public view
Post by Freedom Partners
April 1, 2015
WASHINGTON — Growing numbers of wealthy conservatives who help fund the political and policy network tied to Charles and David Koch are beginning to step into public view to defend the billionaire industrialists and their goals.
Donors to the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce have penned at least eight newspaper opinion pieces recently, declaring their support for the Koch’s small-government, free-market agenda. The latest, signed by eight California residents, appeared this week in The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, Calif. (The Desert Sun and USA TODAY are owned by Gannett Co. Inc.)
“We are proud to associate with the Kochs,” wrote the group, which included John Saeman, an investment firm founder. “The American Dream is simply too far out of reach for far too many people. Yet rather than help address the crisis, politicians from both parties have spent the past half century making things worse.
“We’re working with the Kochs, Freedom Partners and others to reverse this trend,” they wrote.
Freedom Partners, a non-profit that does not have to disclose its donors’ names, sits at the center of the Koch’s expansive operation and distributes funds to other aligned organizations. Recipients of money raised through the Koch network range from foundations and research organizations to the grass-roots-focused American for Prosperity advocacy group and the Libre Initiative, an organization focused on Latino outreach.
In January, some 450 supporters attended Freedom Partner’s annual winter gathering near Palm Springs, Calif., where organizers released a nearly $900 million, two-year budget to advance their causes. Organizers stress that the money will not all be spent on politics, but they have not disclosed details on how the funds will be distributed.
The staggering total — more than double what the Republican National Committee raised and spent during the 2012 presidential campaign — has caused panic among Democrats ahead of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.
The release of the budget figure and the increasing number of donors making their names and policy views public are the latest signs that the Kochs and their allies are bringing a measure of openness to their political operation. Last year, Freedom Partners created the network’s first super PAC, disclosing the names of more than 150 contributors who donated $200 or more. (Trusts controlled by Charles Koch and David Koch donated nearly a quarter of the more than $28 million the super PAC raised in 2014 to help elect Republicans to Congress.)
Chris Rufer, the CEO of a California tomato-processing company, told USA TODAY that he donates between $500,000 and $1 million each year to the Koch network but is not concerned with short-term political gains.
Rufer, a Libertarian, said he’s more interested in changing the “culture” through supporting the foundations and think tanks backed by the network “than in trying to win elections today.”
“Democrats and Republicans are all the same,” said Rufer, who gave $490,000 in 2012 to a super PAC supporting the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico.
Last week, he wrote an op-ed column in The New York Times declaring his support for a top Koch priority: jettisoning the Export-Import Bank. The federally run bank helps U.S. companies by subsidizing loans to foreign customers to help them buy U.S. products. Big business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, support the bank and want Congress to reauthorize the bank’s charter, which expires at the end of June.
Freedom Partners and other Koch-affiliated groups have denounced the bank as corporate welfare. Rufer said he opposes subsidies. “It’s resources and property taken from other folks, and I consider that theft.”
Rufer and another regular attendee of the Koch gatherings, Minnesota broadcasting magnate Stanley Hubbard, said they disagree sharply with Democrats’ portrayal of the Kochs as power-hungry billionaires out to protect their financial interests.
“They aren’t evil people trying to feather their own nests,” Hubbard said of the Kochs, worth an estimated $42.9 billion each. “They’ve got it made.”
Hubbard, who donated $450,000 to Freedom Partners’ super PAC last year, described his fellow donors as largely self-made business people who are concerned about what they view as burdensome government regulations. “We believe it’s very important that the little guy has a chance to get ahead, and the best way for that to happen is free enterprise,” he said.
In addition to Rufer, at least 25 other donors have signed op-eds backing the Kochs in the last seven months, including Dallas tycoon and former Texas Rangers owner Thomas Hicks and Tim Busch, the CEO of a California hotel-development and management company.
Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis said more donors are stepping into the spotlight to make it clear to critics that they are “not just attacking Charles and David Koch, they are attacking hundreds of successful business and philanthropic leaders” who support “free markets and a free society.”